The home buyer of the future is going to want to pay extra money for low carbon homes, because owning a good home makes people feel so much better about themselves
I wanted to return to the subject of my first column more than a year ago: how we resolve the issue of mass housing. But this time with a look towards what the consumer will want a few years down the line. The consumer today is smarter and better informed, and I’m not referring only to design quality but also the hunger for technological progress, wireless connectivity and ecological correctness.
There’s an emerging market, known as the “wellness lifestyle”, that affects a whole range of industries. Consumers want local and sustainable food, they are making principled choices when it comes to investing and are concerned about reining in their carbon footprints. All of this helps them achieve “wellness”. The point for the construction industry is that the consumer sees the built environment, and their living environment, as a tool to assist in their wellness aim.
Their perceived eco-guilt is a big driver in this – they know they should recycle their rubbish and that flying or buying air-freighted strawberries expands their carbon footprints to Sasquatchian proportions – but it’s all very confusing, isn’t it? The government threatens us with “pay as you throw” schemes, while defiantly declaring that the problems with air travel will be solved by science.
The one big move the consumer has control over, which will outshine any amount of recycling or local strawberry purchasing, is to buy a zero carbon home and start their lives afresh, leaving behind them the unsustainable detritus of their past.
Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of zero carbon definition, and the most resounding part of Ruth Kelly’s announcement that all new homes in England will have to be carbon neutral by 2016, is that this refers to construction methods and materials and all energy consumption within the home. Zero carbon means “zero net emissions of carbon dioxide from all energy used in the home”.
BedZed achieved interesting architecture within a zero carbon development. And, crucially, sale prices achieved a premium
Bioregional’s BedZed development in Surrey is the prototype that shows how this can work. It created an interesting architectural environment within a zero carbon lifestyle development. And crucially, sale prices achieved a premium on market values.
One small thing that sparked my imagination on a recent visit was the fact that no central heating was required in any of the apartments. In fact, they are so well insulated and airtight that they have to be ventilated (naturally, of course). We’re working with Bioregional and Quintain Estates on a development in Middlehaven in the Tees valley and are steadily making the zero carbon agenda inherent in our scheme. It takes extra time but why would we not do it?
Other companies from Europe are starting to attract the green pound. Norwegian house maker Hedalm Anebyhus is building more than 30 low carbon houses in collaboration with Accord Housing Association in the West Midlands. It uses closed-panel timber-framed systems, where the panels arrive complete with insulation, external cladding, windows and door frames. These may not represent the most innovative architectural designs but they do succinctly illustrate a point. Two semi-detached bungalows can be erected in a day for the same cost as traditional dwellings, and they emit far less carbon.
Whether you look at this from the ecological perspective or not is irrelevant. Consumers shall get what consumers want, and consumers want to live blissful zero carbon lives, safe in the knowledge that they are not responsible for destroying their environment.
Tarek Merlin is an architect at SMC Alsop
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